09/15/2004 11:00PM

Floral Park speed duel sets up closers

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Whatever is left of Hurricane Ivan may be bringing some rain to New York, but at least this is the best weekend for something like that to happen, because of the six graded stakes to be run at Belmont this Saturday and Sunday, only one is scheduled for turf.

A closer look at some of the key handicapping issues at hand:

Floral Park: This filly race begins Saturday's pick four, and if you have a single in the last leg, which is a statebred allowance, you can buy your way alive through the three stakes races for a mere 5x5x7, a total of $175 for a $1 ticket. But in all likelihood you won't have to spend anywhere near that much.

On paper, a speed duel is likely to develop between the two inside fillies, Cologny and Sensibly Chic. Sensibly Chic has not been out since winning two races at Aqueduct in the spring, each time when equipped with aluminum pads. When last seen April 3, she was one of seven front-running winners on a muddy track that featured a golden rail.

The pace setup may favor the two on the outside, Travelator and Feline Story.

Travelator, who won one of three races against Cologny earlier this year, comes back quickly after finishing next-to-last in last week's Endine Handicap at Delaware Park, a track where some horses don't reproduce their form from other surfaces.

Feline Story is a textbook example of the all-wet-tracks-are-different phenomenon. Two of her worst races came in slop and mud at Saratoga against top-level rivals, but she has run big in the slop at Belmont on three occasions, including a neck loss in the Astarita last fall and a nose loss with a lifetime top Beyer Speed Figure second time out this year.

Belmont Breeders' Cup: If this race remains on the inner turf course, Stroll is prepping for a shot at the Breeders' Cup Mile and looks like a cinch on class. Stroll is a three-time winner at the Grade 1 and Grade 2 level, and among his four rivals the most accomplished are Senor Swinger and Gulch Approval, whose most recent wins were desperate photo finishes in Grade 3's.

Stroll has won all four of his starts at 1 1/8 miles, and a little rain would only help him, because he has been at his best on yielding turf, notably on this year's Kentucky Derby undercard when a torrential rain saturated the Churchill Downs course.

If too much rain necessitates a switch to the main track, this could wind up as a match race between main-track-only entrants Gygistar and Colita. Wouldn't that be thrilling?

Jerome: Pace is at the heart of the matter, because there isn't a bonafide front-runner in this field of seven 3-year-olds.

Teton Forest may get the early lead by default, based on his last start in the Riva Ridge - but that was more than three months ago, and when compared to the other sprints on that Belmont Stakes undercard, the 45-second half-mile was not especially fast. Moreover, the only time Teton Forest has had the lead at the pace call was in his career debut.

Based on his return from a five-month layoff on this track in June, Ice Wynnd Fire is capable of getting to the front, and he might try that tactic after rating experiments in the Carry Back and King's Bishop failed to produce good results.

Horses with inside speed appeared to have the upper hand on Travers Day, which makes Ice Wynnd Fire's three-wide move from last and strong gallop-out past the wire particularly impressive.

And on Sunday . . .

Ruffian: Based on her Beyer Figures, Sightseek is nowhere near as good as she was a year ago. But it might not matter here because her main competition is expected to come from Miss Loren, an Argentine import coming off a 34-1 upset win at Del Mar. Sightseek has never lost at Belmont, and ran one of her biggest figures in the slop here last summer.

Futurity and Matron: If doing away with the Saratoga Special and Adirondack and repositioning the Hopeful and Spinaway earlier at the Saratoga meet was supposed to bolster Belmont's fall stakes program, you sure can't tell by these renewals.

The expected field for the Futurity, downgraded to Grade 2 status this year, included the first three finishers from Monmouth's Sapling and three others coming directly off maiden wins, among them the filly Comacina.

Maybe they should bring back the Saratoga Special and do away with the Futurity.

The Matron has a bit more marquee value due to the expected presence of Sense of Style, who looked very professional winning both of her upstate starts, including the Spinaway.

The filly Sense of Style will have to catch is Summer Raven, as she did in their maiden special weight meeting on the first Sunday at the Spa. Summer Raven is an interesting alternative to the chalky Sense of Style for two reasons.

First, she dug in gamely on a dead rail in their initial meeting: Outside ralliers absolutely dominated the sprints on the afternoon of Aug. 1.

Second, though Summer Raven came back to win a maiden sprint with a low 69 Beyer, she had to duel with a 7-5 first-time starter through ferocious fractions. That maiden sprint received my fastest pace figure for any 2-year-old race run in New York this year.